Every Friday for the entire 2017 calendar year, I will release a new interview + a newly created mixed media piece of art as part of my weekly Ray of Light Interview Series: Women in Recovery. This series will feature brave, kickass, beautiful women who have chosen to embrace an alcohol-free lifestyle. The light was dimmed for these women when they were struggling with alcohol (either a little or a lot). I wish to honor them for their brave choice to ditch alcohol, rediscover themselves through sobriety + shine bright in the process. You can access links to the entire series by clicking here.
Do you remember how we first met or came to know one another?
In the HOME group and then when you launched the Recovery Gals Art Exchange, where I participated in the 2017 Spring equinox art exchange.
What is your sobriety date?
To be honest, I don’t count days (or years, really). I got sober after a DUI on July 29, 2002, so almost 15 years ago. I was 29 years old. I relapsed for a few weeks during the holidays almost 5 years later. So, I consider my sobriety date January 2nd, 2007. I have over 10 years of continuous sobriety now.
Do you use an app or some other method to do this counting?
I do not find value in this for me, personally. It places too much emphasis on days gone by rather than placing my focus in the here and now; and also the future. I understand why people do it; it’s just not that important to me.
What recovery modality do you use in your recovery from alcohol?
I lied about being an alcoholic. The shame kept me stuck, and so I pretended to be “into health and fitness” as a way to explain away my teetotaling. I changed my job, went back to business school, moved across the city and divorced myself from relationships that were no longer serving me. I completely changed my lifestyle, my identity, and my focus. I began to nourish myself with real food. I started exercising for the first time in my life. I read voraciously on the topic of health and I sought ways to go within; learning from masters like Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle and Dr. Wayne Dyer. I wanted to learn how to heal myself from the inside out and the outside in. I am a work in progress; nowhere near being “done”, but I consider my alcoholism to be my greatest teacher and recovery to be my greatest blessing. I do not have any regrets, even when I cringe at some of the things I’ve done.
Do you identify yourself as an alcoholic?
Yes. It is a powerful word and, after years of feeling so much shame around it—resisting it and hiding the truth that I cannot drink alcohol, it feels freeing to finally be able to use it without that rush of fear and adrenalin and embarrassment that used to come with it; rather feeling a sense of pride and badass-ness that feels good to me. I understand and respect others’ views for not using the word, but it works for me. I also believe it loses a lot of its negative power when used freely. I know that for me, it means I simply cannot drink alcohol. It is just the truth for me. So I call it what it is. I also like and identify with the words sober and in recovery.
What are your top three tools in your sobriety toolbox?
For me, getting into wellness has been a game-changer. It allows me to have a focus and passion that never existed when I was drinking. I am now able to see exactly how my food and exercise habits affect my health, and I love having more energy and enthusiasm than I did 15 years ago. If there is ONE thing I encourage people to do who are newly sober, it’s to give special attention to eating and moving. And it doesn’t have to be crazy! We all have different goals, but to spend some energy and burn off anxiety by breaking a sweat daily is huge. And being mindful about what we put in our bodies connects us to ourselves in a way that nothing else can. We truly ARE what we eat!
Why or how did you know or decide that you had to quit drinking?
I detail the entire story on my blog, but essentially, at the age of 29, I was leaving a restaurant after having dinner with a friend and accidentally rear-ended her car. I got a DUI and, realized that the end had come for me. This was the last in a long line of embarrassing, dangerous and shameful incidents over the years, and I knew I had to change or die. It was the single most excruciating time in my life and it set me free.
Do you feel you are more or less creative since you have stopped drinking?
My creativity was stifled for most of my drinking life. While my friends would call me the hostess with the mostest or Martha Stewart because I LOVED to host dinner parties and events and I have a critical eye for detail, the truth was, I enjoyed this work because it glorified my drinking. It allowed me to pretend that it was oh so sophisticated to drink the way I drank, when all the while I was hiding behind the pretense.
Since getting sober, and especially since coming out on my blog and beginning to use my voice, I have found an outlet in my writing and a purpose for my pain. It has been incredibly liberating to share my experiences with others. I also enjoyed your Recovery Gals Art Exchange where I created a “Playbook” (a journal with drawings, exercises and suggestions to live well). It was fun to step outside my comfort zone artistically!
Do you feel you are more productive since you have stopped drinking? If yes, how so?
Absolutely. I used to be a drifter, someone who struggled with not knowing my purpose or passion and having no clue how to figure out my life. I just did what I thought I was supposed to do to maintain the appearance of having my life together (car, apartment, job, social life, etc.) while secretly being tormented with the knowledge that something was off. Knowing deep down that I was meant for more but having no clue what that was or how to get it. I just existed through my days, waiting for weekends where I could just drink and not think. As much as I wasn’t accomplishing anything of real value, my life was exhausting. Now that I’m sober, I amaze myself with what I can accomplish in a few hours, a day, a week, a month. It’s remarkable what happens with a clear mind.
What has delighted you most since you quit drinking alcohol?
Bar none, peeling away the layers to uncover who I really am and what I’m actually made of has been the best part of my recovery. I became curious about myself; I began to uncover traits, discover attributes and explore interests in a way that could have never happened while I was drinking. There was just no time to spend on self-care or self-reflection. Yoga and meditation were foreign to me until sobriety. Taking time to think and ponder and wonder would have seemed frivolous to me back when my definition of success was a case of beer and a carton of cigarettes.
Do you have any advice for those still suffering or for those in early recovery?
Don’t get me wrong, sobriety isn’t all roses and unicorns. Sobriety is a BITCH at times. Especially at the beginning where you can feel completely untethered and alone. My sobriety is something that must be managed and it is a part of me I can’t ignore. But just like people with diabetes or Crohn’s disease, alcoholism is a part of me but it isn’t the whole of me. I want to enjoy my life; not just manage my alcoholism. That’s why health and fitness has had such a profound impact on my life. Eating well and exercising has changed me fundamentally. It has improved my relationship with myself and it has helped me to forge relationships with others I would have never otherwise met. I love the people I practice yoga with; hit the gym with; have coffee with because of my sobriety. Recovery opened up an authentic world to me that my drinking life could never touch. That said, there are days I wish I didn’t have to deal with it and then I remember the blessings of my life and I give myself a good kick in the ass…or a cup of tea…or a chocolate brownie. So, the point here is to feel the feelings. You will have days where you feel off balance and like life is beating you up. And there will be days you feel on fire; indestructible and a force to be reckoned with. And then there will be many, many days in between these feelings. Where you feel like you are just getting through. And sometimes just getting through is enough. And it is ALL ok. It is ALL normal. I recommend connecting with others in sobriety, both online and in real life. There is nothing like connecting with others who won’t judge you. Some of my favourite conversations have been with people where we share our most shameful, embarrassing stories and we all just sit there nodding our heads and “uh- huh-ing” all over each other. It’s the best.
Oh, and buy a journal. Write things down. Keep track so you can look back and see how far you’ve come. And try not to trade one addiction for another. Work hard at getting to the root of the addiction so that you don’t have to suffer with another manifestation of it. I see a lot of people in my work who traded alcohol for sugar, and it can be easy to say “well at least it’s better than…”, but we can get really stuck in that place if we aren’t careful. Perhaps you will find value in working with a coach or a therapist or getting a friend to help you stay accountable or joining a Facebook group, etc. The goal is to live with joy and freedom…not just live a life without booze.
Can you recommend three books, bloggers or teachers that have helped you on this path to sobriety?
Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth changed my life. It had such a profound effect on me that I have since read it twice and continue to follow his teachings.
The Secret, as cheesy as this may seem, also impacted me profoundly. I had honestly never understood how it was that I, me, myself---was the one co-creating my life! As I mentioned, I was a drifter, someone who never felt fully secure anywhere, and certainly never secure in myself or my abilities. I just cut so much of myself off while I drank. So, learning about the law of attraction (Michael Losier’s book by the same name and also Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich as well as Wallace Wattles’ The Science of Getting Rich”, were all huge for me). I felt like the whole world opened up to me and I began to dream, probably for the first time since being a child. It was wonderful.
And then there was Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp, the very first book I had EVER read by a woman in recovery. I felt immediately connected to her and deeply grateful for her voice. I got sober before Facebook or blogs or most recovery sites and podcasts, so hers was the first voice I heard that allowed me to finally say, “me too”.
Are you part of a tribe or a recovery community that supports your sobriety? If so, how did you figure out how to find that tribe/community. What was your path to discovering it?
I launched my blog in 2015 and have since connected with so many others in recovery. It is remarkable. By sharing my own story, people have reached out because we are all looking for that sense of community—that feeling of, “me too.” I am a member of the HOME podcast secret Facebook group of women in recovery led by Laura McKowen and Holly Whitaker. I found them when searching for sober blogs, and then went down the rabbit hole that is the Internet to find these amazing ladies! I also found She Recovers online, and have since connected with the founders Dawn Nickel and Taryn Strong, including speaking at their inaugural conference in NYC on May 6, 2017 about sugar addiction and how to uncomplicate our relationship with sugar and live a life of freedom around food in order to create a life we love. I was recently interviewed by Omar of The Shair Podcast, who is also doing great work in this space.
What are you most proud of now that you live an alcohol-free life?
Finally being someone I am not ashamed of and who I can rely on and who others can trust has been the most powerful part of recovery for me. I am beyond humbled when someone tells me that because of me, they were able to make a positive change in their life. I realize that this isn’t mine, but I also understand that sometimes we need others to show us the way before we can see what’s possible for ourselves and then carve out our own path. Being a part of the greater recovery community has enhanced my view of what’s possible and I am excited for what’s to come as more and more people rise up and put an end to the chaos in their own lives; and in this way, we are changing the world. And I am proud of that. I am proud of us.
Sarah is a speaker, trainer and author of the book The 28 Day Kick The Sugar Challenge (KTSC28.com) and the online course, The 6 Week Sugar Freedom eCourse (SugarFreeCourse.com). Sarah lives in Ottawa, Canada with her partner, Roger. She would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as well as on her blog at SarahTalksFood.com, where she shares inspiration, interviews, stories and health tips to help you love your life…one bite at a time.